Labour's plans for Dunedin

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe promises millions of dollars of investment into Dunedin if he leads the next government after next month's election.

Not unexpectedly, the major announcements include a reopening of the former Hillside workshops and fast-tracking the Dunedin Hospital rebuild as a way of boosting the city's fortunes.

The workshops would be reopened using about $5 million from a new regional development fund and the hospital cost would be about $250 million.

Labour would also save Invermay agricultural research centre from a downgrade. In these matters, Labour has identified key Dunedin and Otago issues.

Underlying problems with the hospital has meant repair jobs on leaks, disruption to staff and patients and a general feeling inferior facilities may lead to a downgrading of the hospital's position in the health hierarchy.

The hospital, along with the medical school including its neurological services, saved by the community, is a shining jewel in the crown of the University of Otago.

As a teaching hospital, Dunedin Hospital commands international respect and plays a major role in the wider community.

Dunedin-based National list MP Michael Woodhouse says the claim the Government has neglected Dunedin Hospital is nonsense.

To be fair, during its two terms, the Government has upgraded the emergency department, intensive care unit and psychiatric ward and rebuilt the children's ward.

Mr Woodhouse blames the hospital neglect on the previous Labour government.

As a former chief executive of Mercy Hospital in Dunedin, Mr Woodhouse may find himself elevated to the health portfolio if National retains power, finding himself under plenty of local scrutiny - just as he did for supporting the closure of Hillside.

Hillside was once the leading manufacturing and engineering facility in the South Island, if not New Zealand, for all forms of the previous railways department, latterly KiwiRail.

The directors cannot be blamed entirely for the closure of the workshops as they are charged with making the best narrow financial decisions on behalf of their shareholders, the Government.

But the closure, as with the failure to award it crucial contracts, did not take into account wider costs and longer-term strategic national and local needs.

Although support for the reopening is widespread in the city, it will not be easy to implement.

Part of the facility is leased, and some staff have retired or departed.

Starting from scratch could incur costs significantly above the planned $5 million.

This policy is designed to win Dunedin hearts, and taps into a feeling of neglect by politicians over several generations.

Labour's positive plan for Dunedin would also save AgResearch's Invermay campus from the scheduled major downgrade in 2017.

This is an absolute requirement for this city.

The agricultural research centre is set to lose most of its more than 100 jobs when its genomics team shifts to Lincoln.

While the community has battled to save Invermay, the board, again appointed by the Government, has not been persuaded.

It faces the same difficulty as the reopening of Hillside.

Key Invermay ''rock stars'' have already either retired or left for more secure jobs overseas.

Although wooing people back or to Dunedin will be difficult, the city clearly remains the best centre for genomics research.

Otago has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, the university attracts large amounts of research money through government funding and parts of the region have economic growth well ahead of the national average.

But both perception and big things matter, and Dunedin has lost many government or quasi government jobs in recent years.

It struggles with slow growth and suffers from centralisation to Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

Voters should welcome Labour's plans, while also being cautious election ''promises'' are just that.

Even with pre-election fiscal updates, the new party coming into office always seems to find to its horror its financial situation is not what it had budgeted on - and other factors come into play.

In 2008, it was the global financial crisis.

This year, the Government's prized surplus is in danger of disappearing.

Voters will need to be wary.

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